Steve Nash grabbed Jodie Meeks’ attention. Contest the Houston Rockets on defense, then get back for the outlet pass and he would find him for a fast break, Nash told him. He would get the ball to him so Meeks wouldn’t have to dribble, Nash mapped out, just get to the basket.
“A couple plays before that, I had missed one,” Meeks recalled. “So I made sure to make that one.”
Meeks caught the pass and connected for a driving two-handed dunk, just as the point guard had outlined. On April 8, 2014 the assist was celebrated for moving Nash into third place all-time. Nearly one year later, it is remembered as the final assist of his career.
“I was happy to be a part of that,” Meeks, now a member of the Detroit Pistons, told Basketball Insiders on Sunday. “It’s a great feeling because he’ll be in the Hall of Fame and let’s be realistic, I’m probably not going to be. Maybe the box score will be, so I’ll be happy to be in there with him.”
For the last two seasons of Nash’s career, Meeks got a firsthand look at how the heralded veteran dedicated himself to greatness every day after nearly 20 years. On Saturday, Nash retired at the age of 41 after missing the entire season due to a back injury, ending an illustrious run that left an impact on those who played with him.
“I’m happy to see him retire and be pretty much injury free for the long term,” said Meeks. “Obviously it’s been a frustrating three years for him with injuries, but he’s had a great career, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Meeks and Nash joined the Lakers in the summer of 2012 — Nash via a trade from the Phoenix Suns and Meeks a month later through free agency. Nash made an immediate first impression.
“He’s a very encouraging person, always positive, works hard, always in the gym,” Meeks said. “He’s been here since the 90s, so someone to do it at that age inspires you to do the same thing.”
Meeks was part of a Lakers team constructed to be a powerhouse. They were swept in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. The following season, Dwight Howard left for the Rockets and the team was struck by serious injuries. They plummeted in the standings and failed to make the playoffs.
Throughout the tribulations, Meeks credited Nash for continuing to work hard. He arrived early to practice and stayed late after. During games, he grabbed dry erase boards to illustrate to his teammates where he wanted them to be to set them up for shots. At halftime, he reviewed game film with them.
“His whole personality is just fun to be around,” said Meeks. “He’s always cheering guys on, looking to make guys better when he’s out there. His personality and his demeanor on the court changed the team a lot. He had a positive attitude. … He stayed professional through everything. Through the good and the bad, he tried to stay even keeled.”
Above all, Meeks remembers two facets of Nash — his ball handling and basketball IQ. Nash dished 10,335 assists and leaves behind a career average of 8.49 per game.
“(The best things about him were) his dribbling exhibitions and his wit,” said Meeks. “I think he was one of the smartest people to ever play. He knew where guys would be, he knew where the other team’s defense was going to do, so I think that gave him an extra mode.”
Over time, the injuries caught up to Nash. But they don’t erase the back-to-back MVP awards, eight All-Star selections and deep postseason runs he accumulated in a remarkable career that began in 1996.
“He took care of his body and when you do that — give or take injuries — you stay positive and you’re a good guy in the league, you can stay around a long time,” said Meeks.
And leave long-lasting memories as well.
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